by Kerry Dexter

“When you make a record, you try to load it up with the ten best sides you can find, every song that could be a hit,” Vince Gill said. “With this it was the same thing, but not every song had to be a hit song.” At least one of them, so far, has been. Gill won a Grammy for country male vocal performance for the song The Reason Why, taken from his latest release, the box set These Days.

The set comprises forty three songs, divided into four CDs, one focusing on groove, one on rockabilly sound, one on country, and another on the acoustic sounds of folk and bluegrass. Gill wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, and sings and plays on all, as well. It was a project that evolved, rather than one started with a commercial plan.

“I had this idea,” Gill said, “that I wanted to record a song a day, and finish it as much as we could, just spend the whole day on one song. When we got to the end of the week, I thought gee, I have so many songs that I just wonder what they could be, what they could sound like. The band was available, in various configurations, and so we just kept going. By the time we were done, we had thirty one songs and I said, oh boy,. I’ve done it now,” Gill recalled, laughing.

“As I started going through the songs,” he continued, “I realized I had material for three different records, and I thought that might be a a way to go outside the box of how things are done in country music, to release three different records close together, and it would also be a thank you for the fans who have stuck with me over the years.” After his garage band days growing up on Oklahoma, Gill played in bluegrass bands in Kentucky and in California, until a recording contract brought him to Nashville in 1982. It would be seven sometimes frustrating years until he hit major mainstream country success with when I Call Your Name in 1989, years in which he played on sessions and cemented musical friendships that come into play on These Days, as a range of guests from Guy Clark to Rodney Crowell, to Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, and Bekka Bramlett appear, as do not so country artists Diana Krall and Bonnie Raitt, nwere faces such as Gretchen Wilson, and Gill’s daughter Jenny. All the guests have meaning and presence to Gill, but his daughter’s work stands out. “I think I’ve been waiting all my life to hear that blood harmony,” he said.

So he took the idea of a three album release to his record company — and they came back with the idea of making it four. “We were still in there finishing things up, and Luke Lewis said, why don’t you go in and record enough to make a bluegrass record too? and we’ll put them all out together, a four record sets of all original songs. That was like throwing gasoline on a fire!” Gill said. The fourth record includes as much folk material as it does bluegrass, and it is a side of his music that Gill has not often put on record, so he especially welcomed the chance to add that aspect to the project.

The forty three songs range from a jazz duet with Krall called Faint of Heart to a stone country rock anthem with John Anderson, Take this Country Back, from a haunting on the road ballad with Lee Ann Womack called if I Can Make Mississippi to full tilt high speed bluegrass gospel on a song called All Prayed Up. Some are newly written and some have been on the back burner for a while. It’s a set worth hearing both for the individual songs which may appeal, and for the breadth of the project. Whichever genre of his focus, Gill is able to inhabit it as an authentic part of his musical personality. He’s clearly having fun with the rockabilly guitar playing, the many moods of stone country are like second nature to his high tenor voice, the groove based songs extend that country to a varied range of pop influences, and the bluegrass and folk are where his roots are and a place he can still be at at home.

“With this much material, there’s always the fear that people will say, oh, ten songs would have been enough,” Gill said, laughing. It’s certainly true that some songs work better than others, and some work better for different listeners than others. Gill is prepared for that. “I really love seeing people’s different reactions to the different songs,” he said. “And I just wanted to be creative at every turn.”

These Days has been nominated for the Country Music Association’s 2007 album of the year award, and Gill himself recently received word that he has been selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, joining, among others, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Kris Kristofferson.

Kerry Dexter’s credits include, SonicNet, the folk music magazine Dirty Linen, Strings, The Encyclopedia of Ireland the Americas, The MusicHound Guides, and others. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road, and contributes to the eclectic review of music videos at Fred Bals’ Series of Tubes.

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